A Balinese Cooking Class: Our day with Paon Bali
We navigate our way through the crowded market, stepping past baskets of bright flowers and boxes of colourful fruits.
At 8.00am, Ubud's main market is selling food produce to the locals. Fast forward one hour and you'll find these stalls replaced with souvenir tables and clothes rails selling tank tops with 'Bintang' written across the chest.
Balinese people are shopping for the ingredients that make up their daily meals. Rice is eaten three times a day, along with fresh vegetables and a good amount of spice, but as we learnt, there is a lot more to Balinese and Indonesian cooking.
What was once a private affair has become a public attraction, with hundreds of tourists attending cooking classes across Bali every day. The preparation, cooking and eating becomes a community event, where people join together to celebrate Indonesian food. From urab to gado gado, we were to cook as the locals do.
Paon Bali (paon means kitchen) is a cooking school housed in the traditional family home of Wayan and Puspa, twenty-minutes from the centre of Ubud. Surrounded by rice fields and jungle in Laplapan, the idyllic landscape provides an insight into village life.
Where better to learn to cook (and eat!) traditional Indonesian dishes?
Wayan begins by offering us a freshly-squeezed lime juice and he tells us about their home complex and the traditions his family follow. Balinese families live in the same compound, commonly with standalone units for each generation (grandparents, parents, children). One family in Laplapan had over fifty individuals living in the same compound. The eldest generations' unit is raised higher than the rest of the buildings, as a sign of respect. Wayan also explained that most families have an area for ceremonies and 'family meetings'. Any family difficulties are discussed and resolved in the latter area.
It is not long until Puspa emerges from the kitchen, interrupting Wayan as he berates the popularity of Pokémon Go, and how his children insist on playing it even when riding their scooters.
A comedy duo with the Chucklebrothers style of 'to me, to you' banter, they certainly know how to entertain. They had 'married by accident', known affectionately as the Bali MBA, after Puspa became pregnant nearly two decades ago. Puspa points to a portrait of herself on the wall and shrieks "before", and then points at herself, "after", laughing.
We are taken to the open air kitchen and shown our ingredients. Many are not hard to come by in the UK (galangal, cloves, kaffir lime leaves), but Puspa gave substitutes for the more difficult-to-source ingredients.
We were to cook an eight-course menu; a delicious combination of meat and vegetable dishes followed by a boiled banana with palm sugar syrup dessert (Kolak Biu Kolak Pisang). From tuna wrapped in banana leaves (Pepesan Be Pasih Pepes Ikan) to minced chicken satay on bamboo sticks (Sate Siap Sate Lilit Ayam), it all sounded incredible.
But would we be able to make it taste incredible?
We use the “Bali blender” (pestle and mortar) to combine ingredients for the peanut sauce and the basic yellow sauce (Base Gede Bumbu Kuning). These sauces would be included in many of the dishes.
Some of us chop, others mix, and a few begin cooking the ingredients for three of the other dishes: a clear mushroom and vegetable soup (Kuah Wong Sup Jamur), vegetable salad (Kacang Me Santok Gado Gado) and chicken curry (Be Siap Mesanten Kare Ayam).
Rachel is put in charge of deep frying the tempe (Tempe Me Goreng Tempe Kering), to be served with a sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) whilst Matt prepares the coconut and snake bean salad (Jukut Urab).
Wayan and Puspa have been running their cooking school for years, and it shows. Our morning runs like clockwork and when we sit down to eat what we'd cooked, we are blown away with how good it is.
With our bellies full and our tastebuds satisfied, we departed with a new-found appreciation of Indonesian food that we may not have grasped without Puspa's guidance. If you're debating whether to attend a cooking school, do it. If you're not sure which one to attend, choose Paon Bali.
Paon Bali runs morning and afternoon classes for IDR 350,000 per person. The morning classes include a guided visit to the market and last from around 8.00am to 2.00pm. More details can be found on their website.